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What It's Like To Really Like To Live In Oslo, The World's Most Expensive City

Gunnar Garfors in NorwayGunnar Garfors, the author, vacationing in Norway.

Oslo is usually fighting for the top spot with Moscow and Tokyo. The contest in question? The race of being the most expensive city in the world. Oslo just “won“. Yet again. I live in Oslo. I’d celebrate, if I could only afford to.So, what do we have to deal with here in Oslo?

ECA, which makes the annual list elegantly named ”the world’s most expensive cities for expatriates”, compares the prices of goods and services. Let’s have a closer look at beer in a bar, soda, a dozen eggs and cinema tickets in Oslo. Business Insider goes through the top 20 cities.

Beer in a bar: $14.10 in Oslo, according to ECA

Of course, there are bars, pubs and clubs in different price ranges, even in Oslo. Norwegians like their beer and there a number of beer breweries around the country. If you are from the West Coast, you typically drink Hansa. People in and around Oslo prefer Frydenlund or Ringnes, while southerners consume CB or Arendalspilsener. Northerners frequently down a Mack or a Nordlandspils. Finally, the people in the middle opt for Dahls.

Norwegians also prefer to drink their “halvliter”, or half a liter. This is a measure that is increasingly difficult to find. Why? Because greedy bar owners have for years been increasing the price of a glass of beer, while decreasing the size of the glass it is served in. You will therefore typically be given a glass of only 0.4 litres (about 13.5 oz). That is 20% less than our beloved “halvliter”. Cheaters!

I presume that ECA has recalculated the price paid for a half liter across the cities that they do visit. Or have they? They only list it as beer in a bar. In the Netherlands you can buy beer in a tiny glass of only 0.18 liter (about 6 oz), while in the UK you get pints of beer. I have seen 0.6 liter in Oslo and 1 full liter in Munich.

You can certainly (and easily) find cheaper beer than the steep 14 USD quoted, but you need to know where to go. Avoid Karl Johans gate (gate = street) at all costs. The main street that runs from the Central station to the Royal palace attracts a lot of tourists, pickpockets, hookers, drug addicts and beggars. Many tourists mean higher prices, poor service and flat beer. The same applies to Aker brygge (the harbour), the harbour. For lower prices and fewer tourists, head to Youngstorget near the Central station or to Grünerløkka, “the bohemian” neighbourhood in Oslo with a lot of bars, cafés, restaurants and small shops.

Soda: $3.43 in Oslo, according to ECA

Sodas like Coca-Cola or Solo, the Norwegian orange-y option, typically come in half a liter plastic bottles or 0.33 liter (about 11.1 oz) glass bottles or aluminium cans. Again, ECA doesn’t list which size they quote the prices of. You will normally be charged at least the price ECA lists at convenient stores like 7-Eleven, Narvesen and Deli de Luca, and a lot more in hotels and restaurants.

Tre brødre, a touristy restaurant on Karl Johans gate, charges 9 USD for bottled water! Welcome to Norway. A worker on minimum wage from Bangladesh would have to work 82 hours to pay for that water. A Cuban would need to put in 180 hours of work. Someone from Sierra Leone would have to sweat for 300 hours to buy the same tiny bottle of water.

Such pricing is embarrassing. Norway is, after all, the country with the best and cleanest tap water in the world. You can, in other words, get free water, even in most restaurants (although a very few will actually charge you for the service). Just ask for tap water.

Enough water talk. To find cheaper sodas than ECA managed to, visit a supermarket. The cheapest ones are called Rema 1000, Rimi, Bunnpris and Kiwi but even the more expensive ICA or Coop will save you money compared with the convenience stores.

A dozen eggs: $8.39 in Oslo, according to ECA

Eggs are typically purchased at a supermarket, unless your neighbour is a farmer. Such neighbours are not common in Oslo.

Again, I don’t know where ECA went to buy eggs, but I found much cheaper ones at my local supermarket, Bunnpris (this translates to bottom price), which I visited today to go hunting for prices of “chicken babies”. The shop has a selection of eggs from various companies. The cheapest dozen will set you back $5.30. The options will cost you back $6.91, $8.64, or a whopping $12.43 for the most expensive ones. I should mention that the latter carton was labelled “ecological”. That probably means that the hens get a square inch extra to move around in and possibly that they were on an extra healthy diet. Or did the other hens eat junk food?

Nevertheless, egg prices are, in other words, up to 37% cheaper than ECA’s number.

Cinema ticket: $18.76 in Oslo, according to ECA

This is at least easy to measure as all cinemas in town are owned by the same company and all shows are bookable online. The correct price then is $17.31, which is almost 8% lower than the ECA’s number. Pensioners pay 15% less. How did you end up paying $18.76, ECA? You don’t tip at cinemas in Norway.

Not entirely accurate
I don’t mind that Oslo is labelled the world’s most expensive city for expatriates, but I think that ECA should be better at telling what they actually measure, and when, where and by whom.

What they have listed gives a certain idea, but it is not entirely accurate. You can certainly get by much cheaper than what ECA claims, but that is probably also the case with the other cities on their list. Expats aren’t exactly known for shopping around too much or for drinking in the cheapest bars in town. 

Oslo certainly is expensive. Very. But that is a good thing, I think. It means that I can travel wherever I want in the world, doing whatever I want and still reassure myself that I am actually saving money as opposed to being at home.

Except for when it comes to caviar. In Norway it comes in a toothpaste like tube, only bigger. We put it on bread with cucumber and cheese. It is cheap, so we indulge. Try it with fresh shrimp and go to heaven. From the most expensive city in the world for expatriates.

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